At the beginning of 2010, we sold our lovingly-renovated, 4 bedroom villa and moved into a converted shipping container. This blog is about our efforts to survive in a big metal box while our eco-home was being built, and how to turn it into a finished home when we finally moved in.
Saturday, 27 August 2011
Beam me up
Everything can look different when you alter your point of view – including your view
Imagine what we'd be able to see if this was 13 centimetres higher...
To everyone’s enormous relief the southerly finally moved on last weekend, and when the much-missed sun reappeared on Saturday afternoon, it was set to stay around for a while.
The ground began to dry out almost immediately and, most importantly, Dean was able to resume work on the build with a vengeance. Prior to my disappearing for an indulgent, extended weekend catching up with old school friends, (leaving Rose to man the crate alone), Dean had an important job for me to help him with first.
The north-facing veranda roof, protecting the decking from the elements and also potentially housing solar panels, is supported on it’s uprights by huge wooden beams. Enormously strong and heavy, these timber girders have the advantage over metal of not bowing under their own weight – and being cheaper, of course!
The beams, four in total needed to be raised and placed perfectly into position and dropping, fumbling or disqualified lifts were not an option. Fortunately my friends Mark and Jonathon were also available to lend a hand, and the process went without a hitch. Already behind our schedule, we left straightaway and didn’t think about it any further. At least not until Rose asked us that evening what these massive objects were held in place with. Sheepishly realising that we didn’t think to ask or even look, our unhelpful suggestions of duct tape, prit-stick and spray glue did nothing to alleviate her concerns.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when, walking along a sunny south coast beach a day later, I received a call from Rose. The beams were fixed in place with robust metal brackets (fitted after we’d left) so that was no problem. The issue was the beams themselves. Specifically what they did to our view – something else I hadn’t had time to check.
As the build has proceeded and the frame work of our house has taken shape, we’ve been able to experience our home as a transparent object. We can walk though the rooms but also be surrounded by our view at the same time, with no walls or ceilings in place to block anything. As much as you tell yourself that everything will look different when the framework becomes replaced with opaque surfaces, it’s still a jolt almost impossible to prepare yourself for. The beam was a good case in point: a long, solid horizontal block looming into our upper window space and uncompromisingly demarcating our view.
In our defence the plans really only showed this structure edge on, making it look for all the world like an upright post. Returning home, we eyed it broodingly and pretty quickly decided that the loss of light wasn’t a problem. We have other, less direct, natural light sources and the unobstructed Wairarapa summer sun isn’t something which floor-coverings and furnishings can withstand for long. Had we opted for the concrete pad/passive heating option we would have encouraged this light into our house, but as it is, the solar panels need it more than our carpet does.
To his credit, Dean – despite an understandable aversion to doing things twice, was sympathetic and helped us look at options. Narrowing the veranda and therefore the roof was mooted, and he nailed a piece of timber in place to show us where the posts would need to be moved to support it. We could quickly see that not only would the new shortened roof destroy the balanced lines and angles which we first designed our home with, but the veranda would be too narrow to be of any practical use. The other option was raising the beam by 13 centimetres, meaning new, taller uprights to support it, and once again Dean had nailed a piece of timber in place to show us the difference this might make. It clearly wasn’t much, but before we made the decision he encouraged us to sit inside the living room (on a dining room chair supported by a spare piece of ply across our floor joists) and to ‘plank’ in our bedroom, gaining a realistic view of what we would see from inside.
Balancing the costs of new material and time involved against a gaining a negligible wedge of extra sky, we decided to keep things as they were. It’s been a valuable exercise – as more of the framework becomes clad our views will finally become confined to our windows and doors. Our house - up until now an outside space - is gradually becoming an interior environment. Perhaps it’s a little like watching a child grow up, a little disconcerting, but exactly as things should be.